Each June the town of Feldkirch in Austria is home to the Schubertiade. Lynn ten Kate delights in a festival recreating the intimacy of long-gone musical soirees
The Schubertiade begins today. It is one of the world's most intimate and happy musical festivals - and one of Austria's best kept secrets. Schubert did not enjoy the public acclaim his prodigious talents deserved during his short lifetime, but his songs became popular in Vienna - and fashionable patrons and his circle of friends met regularly, in each other's houses, to sing and play his compositions. These gatherings became known as Schubertiades and something of the same feeling of intimacy is achieved each year in the town of Feldkirch.

The province of Voralsberg, known to Austrians as "the little land", juts like a crooked finger into Switzerland, with Germany on its northern border. It is separated from the rest of Austria by the formidable barrier of the Massif Alsberg and once felt so isolated that it made an unsuccessful bid to be incorporated into Switzerland. Although there is now a road tunnelled through, it is still not an easy place to reach. But getting to Feldkirch is certainly worth it, particularly if your arrival coincides with the Schubertiade, from the middle to the end of June.

Feldkirch is a friendly, medieval town of narrow streets and alleys, surrounded by Alpine meadows and magnificent mountain scenery. Concerts are given in the old Jesuit Seminary, which is now a conservatoire, and other venues such as the 13th-century church, the castle courtyard, the open air theatre and the Angelica Kauffman salon. The music, if you like Schubert, is perfect. The best of the world's artists come each year and they tend not to rush away after their own performances but to stay and listen to each other. So, if you are lucky, like I was, you could find yourself sitting next to Alfred Brendel as you listen to Andreas Schiff and Peter Schreier performing Die schone Mullerin. Brendel was kind enough to give me some pointers on what to listen for in the music in exchange for my suggestions on how he could update his computer.

Depending on your capacity to enjoy several musical events each day, you could take in a morning, afternoon and evening performance but there are always fringe events for those wanting to vary their diet. In this year celebrating the 200th anniversary of Schubert's birth, there are special events throughout the area with exhibitions showing some original manuscripts including Winterreise, The Earl King and the string quartet Death and the Maiden. Alongside his spectacles, death mask and other ephemera are postcards and the drawing and designs for the commemorative postage stamps. His work is re-assessed in lectures and several of the films made of his life story are being screened.

There is an elegance about all the events connected with the Schubertiade and for the concerts you are asked to dress "in keeping with the occasion". For men this means a smart lounge suite and for women - well you certainly don't have to drip with jewellery but this is the time to bring out that designer dress or jacket. People who have been to the Schubertiade tend to return time and time again and concert intervals are full of the cries of greetings as once-a-year friends reunite.

The food in Feldkirch is good and the beer excellent. The restaurant in Schattenburg castle which towers above the town is renowned for its dishes, including the largest Wiener schnitzel in the Alps. In the town itself dozens of cafes and restaurants spill out on to the pavements of the pedestrian streets near the Ill, a grey, rushing river which separates the conservatory from the main town. Eating and drinking is an important part of the local culture but in fairness one should point out that Voralsberg prides itself on keeping a somewhat lighter kitchen than the rest of Austria.

If you can tear yourself away from the town, there are plenty of interesting day excursions. Fifteen minutes south by car takes you into Liechtenstein. Within an hour going north you can be sailing on Lake Constance, taking in the picturesque German island of Lindau or exploring the old city of Breganz with its opera performances on the world's biggest floating stage - brilliant when staging the Flying Dutchman but a bit disconcerting when Carmen makes her entrance from the cigarette factory by boat. There is a captivating folk museum where the decorated wooden beds are short, to ensure the occupants slept sitting up so the devil couldn't steal their soul, and a church which the 16-year-old Angelica Kauffman, who was born locally, helped her father to paintn

Feldkirch facts

Getting there: Lynn ten Kate paid pounds 109 return (including tax) for a Heathrow- Zurich flight on Swissair, through Major Travel (0171-485 7017). From Zurich airport, you take one of the frequent trains to the city's main station, then change for the Innsbruck train which stops at Feldkirch. A return ticket costs around pounds 35.

Accommodation: In Feldkirch Lynn ten Kate stayed at the Alpenrose Hotel where bed and breakfast costs pounds 40 single/pounds 60 double.

More information: Austrian National Tourist Office, 30 St George Street, London W1R 0AL (0171-629 0461); e-mail: oewlon@easynet.co.uk

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